Community Voices:Volunteers strive to increase registered Asian voters

It’s 11 a.m. on a recent Sunday, and Mass has just ended. Hundreds are pouring out of the sanctuary at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission in Norcross, making a beeline for food and refreshments set out in the social room.

Raymond Partolan and his volunteers, smiling and friendly, intercept them: “Excuse me, can I help you register to vote today? It takes less than two minutes.”

They shepherd the willing to tables covered in state voter registration forms, in English, and informational fliers, in English and Vietnamese, beneath two banners: “Asian Americans Advancing Justice” and “Register to Vote Here.”

“This is the perfect place to register voters,” said Partolan, AAAJ program coordinator. “We started before 9, and we’ve already registered 45 people.”

Summer is here, it’s an election year, and voter drives in ethnic communities are in high gear as groups like AAAJ head out to Asian churches, festivals, shopping malls and neighborhoods. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register for the November elections.

Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic and racial minority in the country; their population grew by 69 percent in the South between 2000 and 2010, according to AAAJ. To be heard on public issues, community leaders say, those who are citizens need to vote.

A nationwide “APIAVote” campaign enlisting Asian-American celebrities like George Takei, John Cho and Constance Wu was recently launched by a coalition involving AAAJ, the Asian Pacific American Leadership Foundation and others. To view a video: https://youtu.be/_Q0pDaInw9U

In Georgia, some 421,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders accounted for 4.1 percent of the state’s population in 2015, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office reports the number of active Asian-American registered voters in this state totaled 77,612 as of mid-April, up by 16 percent from October. About 156,000 Asians in Georgia are citizens eligible to vote, according to James Chan Woo, spokesman for AAJA’s Norcross office.

“Turnout hasn’t been that great. We’re trying to increase it,” Woo said.

More than 15 major ethnic groups comprise Asian-Pacific Islanders, of Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese to Chinese, Filipino and South Asian descent – each with their own customs, cultures and, often, language other than English.

Voter documents are only in English, and many new citizens have limited English proficiency and are unfamiliar with the electoral process, Woo said. Groups like AAAJ offer to assist, following state rules for third-party voter registration.

Until AAAJ volunteers corralled him at church, Hung Nguyen, a Holy Vietnamese Martyrs parishioner, had yet to register to vote even though he has lived in the United States for 16 years.

What took him so long? “Too much work, didn’t have time, making a living, working late at night,” said Nguyen, a former South Vietnam Air Force communications officer who today delivers newspapers in metro Atlanta. He added, “It’s very good people came here to help us.”

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